First impressions count. Adopt these techniques to keep your audience rapt from the get-go. Here are the ten best presentation openers.
Some say it’s 15 seconds; others 30. A few generous souls will even allot up to 60 seconds. Whatever the case, this much is indisputable: you’ve got one minute max in which to capture your audience’s attention at the start of your presentation. After that, they’re gone.
Physically they’re still occupying the same space, give or take a fidget, but mentally they’re reliving last night’s Netflix marathon, or pondering whether centaurs really have two rib cages. Miss that window of opportunity – those precious seconds in which all eyes really are on you – and you’ve lost your audience.
The beginning of the story
Way before you fire up PowerPoint, you’re crafting your narrative and what better way to start than at the beginning? We like you, you’re smart.
Every presentation is a story. Or at least it should be. It needs to have a clear beginning, middle, and end. As this article is about the best presentation openers, we’ll focus on the beginning. To start your presentation off correctly, you need to be connecting with your audience by setting the scene. Make it clear you understand their industry, the current climate, and give them a sneak peek of what’s coming.
But how do you connect with your audience in the beginning? Well, it depends on the story that you’re telling, but this article is going to take you through the ten best presentation openers according to Buffalo 7.
Or maybe you’re now realising that there’s more to a presentation than simply starting and seeing where the wind takes you. In which case, may we interest you in some advice on how to structure your presentation, or even how to craft your narrative?
10 best presentation openers to start a presentation
1. The statistic
You don’t want to be splurging all your most important data on your audience at the start – you’ll want to build a crescendo of messaging towards the big reveal later. But a surprising or impressive statistic to start your presentation can help to hook your audience’s attention.
To avoid confused stares, it’s important you seat any statistic in the proper context. Don’t just deliver the number on its own, frame it in a way that demonstrates why it matters to them.
For example, try something like ‘By the time I’ve finished this talk, X people will have been affected by [subject]’ as opposed to ‘[Subject] affects X people annually’.
2. The question
Ah, starting off with a question: an oldie but goodie from the dusty depths of the public speaking toolkit. And there’s a reason it’s been around so long: it works. By addressing your audience directly, you increase engagement.
There are a few ways you can go about opening your presentation with a question. You can use an entirely rhetorical one, to get your audience thinking about and reflecting on your topic. Or you can seek responses to turn your presentation into a two-way conversation.
Starting a presentation with a question helps establish an element of interactivity, and while people might not want to be the first to speak out, you can pick individual audience members and ask them to elaborate after they’ve put their hands up. It’s less of a scary schoolteacher vibe.
3. The opinion
If you want to stand out with your presentation opener, be the black sheep in the flock. There’s currency in being a contrarian, and it’s about more than just shock value. Do you remember the film Dead Poet’s Society, where Robin Williams urges his students to rip out the opening page of their textbooks? That’s what you’ve got to do.
‘As you all know, muscle growth is about progressive overload, clean eating, and smart supplementation.’
‘Well, I’m here to tell you that’s a big fat lie. Forget everything you’ve heard about strength training. If you wanna get swole, here’s what you should do…’
Your audience might not agree with you, but one thing they certainly can’t do is ignore you. Don’t be a contrarian for the sake of it, of course, but if you genuinely have an unconventional approach, don’t be afraid to put it out there from the start.
4. The Value Proposition
Another good way to start your presentation is to jump straight to addressing the audience’s selfish motives. They only care about their own needs and priorities, and the whole reason that they showed up to listen to you is because they want to derive value from your presentation.
You can get them listening closely by acknowledging this fact and letting them know exactly what they’ll get out of it, if they just pay attention for a little longer. Try something like ‘By the end of this talk, you’ll know how to generate more sales through inbound marketing’. Obviously, don’t promise anything that you can’t deliver, as this risks damaging your credibility.
5. The problem solver
For your presentation to be successful, you need to show how you can solve a problem for your audience. So, why not open by describing it?
Really dig into the pain points that the problem causes – amplify how bad the current situation is and why it needs to be solved. Once your audience recognises the breadth and depth of the problem, you’re in a prime position to solve it with the rest of your presentation.
6. The reference
Refer to something your audience will know about, and that is relevant to them. It might be a flashpoint in their industry, or something of wider cultural significance. This provides the opportunity to establish context and set out your points, connecting them to a bigger picture from the start of the presentation, as well as showing you understand their world.
7. The quote
We live in a world of aphorisms, maxims, and Pinterest-shared platitudes. If you’re planning your presentation opener to be a quote, better make it a banger. It doesn’t have to be famous – it just has to be memorable. Your audience has probably received a lifetime supply of canned MLK quotes and can recite Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement address off by heart. If you’re planning to start with a cliche-free quote, you’re going to need to, um, think outside the box. Ahem.
‘A good speech is like a pencil; it has to have a point.’
That’s good. Thanks Pinterest. To get your audience interacting with you from the outset, put a quote on your first slide and ask them who it’s from. Or reveal the first half of the quote and get them to guess how it ends. Instantly, they’re involved and have gone from being a passive to an active audience.
8. The joke
Be wary. A high-pressure sales environment might not be the best place to make jokes. Neither would a report to investors, detailing how you’ve lost all their money. However, in the right situation, starting your presentation with some humour could help you appear more relaxed, confident, relatable, and creative.
If you do start your presentation with a joke, please don’t wait expectantly for the laugh. They might laugh, they might not. Either way, quickly move on and keep the presentation going.
9. The secret
‘Hi. My name is Mark and, at weekends, I like to wear my girlfriend’s lingerie.’
No, not that sort of secret.
‘Hi. My name is Mark and I’d like to share a secret with you. When I started this job, my greatest fear was public speaking.’
Better. Now you’ve revealed a vulnerability, and your audience can empathise with you. If they possess even a sliver of humanity, they should be willing you on after such an admission.
‘Then I learned to conquer my fear of public speaking. Now, the only things that scare me are the Tarantula Wolf Spider and 4% battery.’
We’ve left confessional territory behind now and delved into humour. But, in truth, you can steer your presentation any which way you like from this point. You’ve already piqued your audience’s curiosity. Now you have their attention.
10. The picture
Humans are hardwired to remember faces over names. Memory isn’t a spreadsheet – it’s a rich visual tapestry. Start your presentation with a strong image and it’ll do the hard work for you.
A powerful image will evoke equally powerful emotions: awe; surprise; disgust. Okay, so you probably want to avoid grossing out your audience, but don’t be afraid to make them feel. Whether it’s a cute puppy dog or an iconic war photograph, a powerful picture will sear itself into their consciousness better than a dozen text-heavy slides ever could.
The storytelling loop
Forget about your interests and life experience, it’s all about your audience. How can you tailor your presentation opener to appeal to your audience? Think about their industry and interests. A room of coders will respond better to a joke about Linux than a room of event planners. A group of art students will find a Picasso anecdote more relatable than one about Socrates.
Once you’ve settled upon one of these presentation openers, it’s a good idea to return to it when closing your presentation. This completes the storytelling loop and leaves your take-home message fixed firmly in mind. Conclude that confession. Finish that quote. Captivate that crowd.
However you start your presentation, make it memorable. Make it explosive. Make it count. After that, the hard work’s done: you’ve got your audience’s attention and they’re keen to hear what else you’ve got to say.